An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of German

REPORT

 

Coláiste Mhichíl

Sexton St., Limerick

Roll number: 64200R

 

Date of inspection: 26 September 2007

Date of issue of report:   22 May 2008

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Mhichíl. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in German and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and the teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school-planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the deputy principal and subject teachers.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

German is one of two modern languages taught in this voluntary secondary school for boys. It is commendable that it was introduced in 1998 to provide breadth and balance to the curriculum. There are five first-year class groupings and these are all streamed classes. A modern foreign language is offered to the top three streams only. French and German are provided as subject options to the top two streams, French alone to the third. There are significant issues associated with this in relation to streaming, language access and the status of German in the school. It is strongly recommended that school management, in consultation with the staff, should re-examine and review this system of class formation in light of the above issues and the reported priority management places on modern languages in the curriculum. Streaming as a class organisation model may be easy to administer, however, it is not likely to be in the best interests of all students.

 

Because of this system of streaming a significant percentage of students at both junior and senior cycle do not study a modern foreign language. Students with special educational needs (SEN) do not have access to any modern foreign language. Quite a considerable cohort of students chooses to take the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and it is French that is offered here, at present. Whilst acknowledging the socio-economic factors and the tradition of students to attend colleges or courses which may not necessarily have a language requirement, this is a matter of concern. It is recommended, therefore, that management utilise the popularity of LCVP to ensure the popularity and continuity of modern languages in the curriculum.

 

Given the particular context of the school and the fact that a significant number of newcomer students are allocated to German classes it is recommended that school management, in tandem with the modern language teachers, formulate a language policy outlining the position of languages within the school’s curriculum. This policy document should also have as its focus the status of modern languages in the school, in particular German. It should have a specific emphasis on the delivery of German in the school, the equality of access to the subject through subject choice and in the provision for the subject. The particular demands of mixed-ability teaching – including specific references to newcomer students - should be addressed in this document also and the levels of in-school and in-service support to help cope with wide ranges of ability should be outlined.

 

Overall, the timetable makes good provision for the delivery of German and all classes receive the correct time allocation in line with syllabus requirements. However, the distribution of class periods across the week is uneven. Transition Year (TY) is the only year group allocated single periods. It is recommended that, in so far as possible, single periods should be assigned to all German year groups as this allows regular class contact time with the target language to ensure continuity and effective progress. It is also recommended that class periods should be distributed with greater equality across the week.

German is well provided for in terms of human resources and there are currently two German teachers on staff. It is commendable that teachers are affiliated members of the „Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands” (German Teachers Association) as professional networks can often provide useful information in terms of courses on offer, resources available and methodological considerations, for example.

There is no annual budget for the purchase of materials or teaching aids. However, funds are made available on request. Whilst management reported that the German department has access to a variety of material resources (including tape recorders, overhead projectors, TVs and video recorders and a computer room) the German department stated it was difficult to gain access to both the TV and computer room. It is recommended that the modern-foreign-languages department request a resources update which should include information and communication technologies (ICT). This would greatly facilitate the integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of German in the school. These resources should be specifically shared between the two language departments. Other resources such as books relating to pedagogical issues and methodologies such as active methodologies, mixed-ability teaching or the integration of language learning could also be purchased.

 

Teachers facilitate involvement in co-curricular activities. A pen-pal project has run successfully for junior cycle classes. Students’ participation in exchanges has also been facilitated. Teachers spoke of their intention to organise a school trip to the Rhineland this academic year. This is commendable as it complements the teaching and learning of German and provides students with first-hand cultural experiences. Students are also brought to see German films on an annual basis, food-tasting events are organised and students are encouraged to make Christmas cards in German. Participation in co-curricular activities is to be commended as it enhances the enjoyment of language learning and contributes to maintaining a high profile for German in the school. 

 

Whilst acknowledging these efforts to actively promote German in a co-curricular and cross-curricular way, it is recommended that consideration be given to further promoting the use of co-curricular activities through the running of events such as a German day or week, the partaking in the German debating competition or the organisation of a German quiz for junior classes. Such a quiz could be devised by Transition Year students, thus consolidating their knowledge and use of German question forms in an authentic context. It is also recommended that the school should apply for a foreign language assistant (FLA) to enhance the teaching and learning of German in Coláiste Mhichíl as an FLA provides a direct link to Germany and its culture, as well as providing opportunities for students to speak and prepare themselves for their oral examinations.

 

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

Coláiste Mhichíl is involved in the school-development-planning process with formal subject planning being developed.

 

The German department is part of the modern-foreign-languages department for planning purposes and meets formally once per term and informally on an ongoing basis. A co-ordinator has been appointed on a rotating basis.  Records are kept of formal meetings. This is good practice and to be commended. 

 

Both German teachers had individual plans for the teaching and learning of German in Coláiste Mhichíl and these were made available on the day of the inspection.  These plans included teaching aims for each year group, curriculum content and organisation, a list of resources for each year group, and a TY plan. A ‘self appraisal schedule’ which included areas such as motivation, discipline, questioning techniques and class involvement was prepared in conjunction with individual class planning. This capacity for review and self-evaluation is commendable and should be extended to all areas of planning for the subject. There was evidence of ICT integration through the use of downloads to be used as resources which could be photocopied.

 

As a means of building on the good work to date and advancing the process towards the stage of self-review, it is recommended that teachers should include in their modern-language-department plan a list of desired learning outcomes for each year group. What the students will be able to do as a result of their learning should be detailed as well as the necessary linguistic strategies and proposed methodologies to achieve these outcomes. This planning should progress in a thematic manner integrating all four language skills. Newcomer students and students with special educational needs should also be considered in the context of planning. This framework should facilitate teachers, in time, to review their work and methodologies on an ongoing basis.

  

There was evidence of preparation for the lessons observed on the day of the inspection with the advance readiness of photocopies, transparencies and relevant equipment.

 

Teaching and learning

 

Lesson content in all lessons observed was chosen in accordance with the needs of the learners and was appropriate to the requirements of the relevant syllabus. In junior cycle, revision of themes such as buildings and descriptions of self were chosen. In senior cycle, the preparation of topics relating to the Leaving Certificate oral examination formed the basis for lesson content.

 

Discipline was sensitively maintained in all lessons observed. All interactions were characterised by mutual respect and a positive learning atmosphere prevailed. Students were encouraged to participate in class and to ask questions. This is commendable.

 

Generally, the pace of lessons was good and students were engaged in learning activities. These activities were changed at suitable intervals during the lesson to ensure that students’ interest was maintained. This is to be commended. In some classes there was a clear procedure for the lesson and instructions were given in the target language. This is good practice.

 

Limited teaching strategies were employed by teachers on the day of the inspection. Good practice was observed at senior cycle when a pair-work activity was used to prepare a Leaving Certificate picture sequence. It is recommended that a wider range of appropriate and active teaching methodologies should be employed by teachers on a regular basis to enhance the learning experiences of their students. This could include song, games, and quizzes, ‘hot-seat’ type interviews and so on. Given the fact that one class cohort consists almost entirely of newcomer students, it is strongly recommended that teachers use differentiated teaching methods to meet the needs of all their students. Students with specific language needs have varying requirements and this necessitates suitable methodologies to be employed which will aid their learning without making their proficiency gap too prominent or their only characteristic. Contact with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) is recommended as IILT has a range of resources available to teachers to help students with specific language needs access the mainstream curriculum (see www.iilt.ie) including a European Language Portfolio for Irish post-primary students.

 

Available resources were used to good effect to support the teaching and learning of German on the day of the inspection. For example, the overhead projector was used effectively to revise and further extend vocabulary around the topic of letter-writing skills. The relevant overhead transparencies included vocabulary, question and answer prompts and a ‘gap-test’ letter. Using such materials to supplement textbooks provides for good teaching and learning and is most praiseworthy.

 

At senior cycle, a class set of dictionaries was distributed to students during a written production exercise. This is praiseworthy as independent dictionary usage encourages students to actively engage with the learning process and take responsibility for their work. 

 

The use of the target language for transactional communication and classroom management was good. Students were also asked questions in the target language and showed satisfactory comprehension. Whilst a consistent effort was made to communicate with the students in German, teachers should remain mindful of the fact that they are the only model of the target-language community their students have. Therefore, there is an obligation on teachers to extend and develop their own linguistic competencies and upskill themselves on an ongoing basis as part of their continuing professional development (CPD).

 

At junior cycle, a pre-listening activity was employed to good effect to help prepare students for the planned listening comprehension exercise.  New vocabulary was written on the whiteboard and students read and practised vocabulary that they were about to hear on the tape. This is very effective as a pre-listening activity and is to be commended. However, teachers should ensure adequate preparation for such activities. In order to foster correct use of grammar by their students, to generate an awareness of etymology and to reinforce the visual literacy of their students, it is recommended that teachers are accurate in their target-language usage when writing German on the board or overheads.

 

Teachers are to be commended for their efforts to make the classroom environments more stimulating by the display of posters and maps. In one class, a poster relating to telling the time was displayed on the wall and was referred to during oral practice to prompt students. The alphabet was also phonetically displayed. In another classroom, the useful practice of displaying projects and examples of students’ work was evident.

 

Students received individual attention from the teacher as required and a strong sense of pastoral care was evident in some classes. This is to be commended. Students were asked, on occasion, whether they found an exercise difficult or easy to complete. This promotion of evaluation should lead to more reflective and independent learners and is good practice.

Assessment

 

Students’ progress in Coláiste Mhichíl is assessed in a variety of ways.  These include question and answer sessions, the setting and correction of homework, class tests and end of term examinations. 

 

The school has a homework policy. A review of students’ copybooks revealed evidence of homework being assigned, corrected and, in some instances, comments included. A range of homework modes was also evident. However, it is recommended that students should be given a greater number of homework exercises requiring students to manipulate their knowledge of the target language. The good practice of teachers signing and dating homework exercises is commended since progress can be more easily tracked both by students and teachers. In the best samples of homework seen copybooks were conscientiously corrected and students were given positive and helpful feedback. This approach to correction is of particular benefit to learners and it is recommended that such good practice should be replicated across the department. For further suggestions as to how best consolidate an assessment for learning (AfL) approach to assessment teachers are advised to visit the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s website www.ncca.ie .

 

Students’ oral competencies are assessed on a regular basis and oral examinations are administered at senior cycle.  Aural competencies are assessed both at junior and senior cycle. It is recommended that students’ oral abilities should be assessed at all stages of their language learning.

 

Generally, contact with parents concerning students’ progress is maintained through the use of the student journal, school reports and annual parent-teacher meetings.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         German is one of two modern languages taught in this voluntary secondary school for boys. Overall, the timetable makes good provision for the delivery of German and all classes receive the correct time allocation in line with syllabus requirements.

·         Both German teachers had individual plans for the teaching and learning of German in Coláiste Mhichíl and these were made available on the day of the inspection.  A ‘self-appraisal schedule’ was included in some planning documentation. This is praiseworthy.

·         Good practice was observed at senior cycle when a pair-work activity was used to prepare a Leaving Certificate picture sequence. At junior cycle, a pre-listening activity was employed to good effect to help prepare students for the planned listening comprehension exercise. 

·         The use of the target language for transactional communication and classroom management was good.

·         Teachers are to be commended for their efforts to make the classroom environments more stimulating by the display of posters and maps.

·         The good practice of teachers signing and dating homework exercises is commended since progress can be more easily tracked both by students and teachers.

·         Students’ oral competencies are assessed on a regular basis and oral examinations are administered at senior cycle. Aural competencies are assessed both at junior and senior cycle.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

·         It is strongly recommended that school management, in collaboration with the staff, should re-examine and review this system of class formation in light of students’ access to a modern language, the status of German in the school and the reported priority management places on modern languages in the curriculum.

·         School management, in tandem with the modern language teachers, should formulate a language policy outlining the position of languages within the school’s curriculum.

·         Teachers are advised to extend and develop their own linguistic competencies and upskill themselves on an ongoing basis as part of their continuous professional development.

·         It is recommended that a wider range of appropriate and active teaching methodologies should be employed by teachers on a regular basis to enhance the learning experiences of their students.

·         Contact with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) is recommended as IILT has a range of resources available to teachers to help students with specific language needs access the mainstream curriculum (see www.iilt.ie) including a European Language Portfolio for Irish post-primary students.

·         It is recommended that students’ oral abilities should be assessed at all stages of their language learning.

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of German, with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.